Then why? To palpate pebbles?79 What dust
was felt by Armstrong’s foot enwrapped
in pressured Teﬂon and metal-strapped?80
And yet we make a Federal fuss
for Buzz and Neil – while Mike,81 adrift
that day, on solitary shift,
revolving round the moon for eight
and twenty hours, would palpitate
a solitude which few could bear (he
might have there out-traveled Peary!82).
O lonely Collins, if ever we meet
I promise to sing an Ode to your feet!
Then why? I ask you. Why this urge
to claim things ﬁrst? What makes us seek this
vital bounty, this title, ‘Uniqueness’,
when it, from us, is bound to diverge?
I used to admire those brilliant bards
who once found paying creditors hard.
Lord Byron, who owned the ancient East;
and Coleridge, from whom all oceans are leased.
I used to think – had I some song
divined within me, how loud and long
I’d sing it! But then I learned: A purse is
what builds a lasting empire – not verses.
But let me continue – lest I fail
to build at all! There was a sudden,
bone-shaking jolt, a ﬁnal thud in
all that ocean-whipping gale.
Then all was still. The engine slain.
A hesitant applause of rain
rose up against our bug-eyed window.
A foggy mist had settled in though
– or no, the weather wasn’t clogged
as such; the inside glass was fogged;
so I didn’t know what was around it
until dear Nutmeg said, ‘We found it’.
Slowly, salaciously, the clouds
slipped off my island. My vision
cleared, and with a growing precision
the traits with which she was endowed
(and which had been a haunting riddle
for days) appeared. Her naked middle,
where Meg in desperation landed,
was perfectly smooth, a sand-patch branded
only by the fanning ruts
created by our landing struts;
and rows of freckles running cross:
The footprints of that albatross.
I saw the rocks, a peppered white,
where I had docked three nights before.
They spread along the south-west shore
as locks, or garlands, once bound tight
but loosened by the surf – as if
their mass were soft and gently adrift
and from a ﬁgure freshly laid
upon the water, like Hamlet’s maid.
Above, two clouds had come disjoined.
The sun slipped through, a slot en-coined
with yellow token. We’d hit the jackpot.
I seized my camera, took a snapshot.
Land! O promised land! A Zion
of designs my own! A place
of digniﬁed and leisured grace,
a land for me to live and die on!
A rock I found amidst a sea
of wandering dreams – or it found me –
a Hermitage to live withdrawn;
my private summer Yiheyuan.83
A solid place in pitching life.
A refuge from one’s bitching wife!
An ocean gem, a rich and free-land;
my country home, my New New Zealand!
79 Palpating the pebbles most likely refers to Vladimir Nabokov’s famous quote about walking on the moon: ‘Treading the soil of the moon, palpating its pebbles, tasting the panic and splendor of the event, feeling in the pit of one’s stomach the separation from terra…these form the most romantic sensation an explorer has ever known.’
80 The lunar boot was actually an overshoe that the Apollo lunar explorer slipped on over the pressure boot of the spacesuit. The outer layer of the lunar boot was made from metal-woven fabric, except for the ribbed silicone rubber sole. The boot’s inner layers were made from Teﬂon-coated glass-ﬁber cloth followed by 25 alternating layers of Kapton ﬁlm and glass-ﬁber cloth to form an efﬁcient, lightweight thermal insulation.
81 Astronaut Michael Collins (born 1930) commanded the module pilot, Columbia, for Apollo 11, the 1969 American space mission which landed the ﬁrst humans on the moon. He circled the moon for 28 hours as Buzz Aldrin (born 1930) and Neil Armstrong (born 1930) descended to the moon, walked on its surface, and then returned to the Columbia.
82 Robert Edwin Peary (1856–1920) was the ﬁrst person to reach the geographic north pole, a claim now treated with some skepticism. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the designing of the ‘Peary System’, a method by which support teams deposited supply caches along the route in the arctic.
83 A palace in Beijing, China, known as the Summer Palace, and which literally means, ‘Garden of Health and Harmony’.